Writer/Director Molly Manning Walker makes her feature film debut in both writing, and directing How To Have Sex. The film follows a trio of teenage friends Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake), and Em (Enva Lewis) on a holiday vacation. While on vacation, the group parties harder than ever and meets a similarly aged group consisting of Badger (Shaun Thomas), Paddy (Samuel Bottomley), and Paige (Laura Ambler). The two groups join forces to party more, but the dynamic amongst the girls changes as Skye and Tara fight for the attention of Badger and/or Paddy, to a devastating outcome.
Overall, the film explores different dynamics between the group members, themselves, and with sex. Most importantly, and powerfully, the film focuses on the acts of consent, sex, and perception after the fact, especially when the first two items are not aligned.
Tara ends up having sex for the first time with one of the boys they meet on vacation. The problem is that it clearly wasn't a 100% consensual act, altering how she sees herself in the mirror and her every action in public. Moments with her childhood friends now become uncomfortable when Em and Skye ask for all the details, or push her to sleep with the same man again. What's even more interesting is how Walker drapes all of this in EDM blasting clubs, pool parties, and heavy drinking creating an environment of loose, free kids just playing around. But the real fact of it is, it's not all playing around. The dichotomy of sex for a young man and a young woman is on full display as men are applauded for taking part in overtly sexual games at their resort while the women are props for such activities. At one point, Badger receives oral sex on a stage for the purpose of winning a DJ's competition, to the deafening applause of the audience.
There are three moments where Tara actually appears to be completely comfortable as herself. These are practically the acts the movie is centered around, making it a much more interesting narrative structure. The first is the beginning of the film when the trio of friends are happily dancing, drinking, and running into the ocean even if it is too cold. Second is when Tara after the fateful night, runs off on her own and finds a new group of friends that just... have fun. They don't know anything about her time with Paddy, they just see her for who she is and without pressing any sort of sexual actions, dance the night away. For the second time we can finally see Tara comfortable with who she is, unencumbered by expectations of sex or whatever it is she wants to do after school. Finally, Tara tells Em what happened with Paddy and why she's been so hesitant to respond when asked for details or pushed to do it again. Em responds with empathy and compassion, consoling her friend and letting her know that what happened is definitely not ok and she doesn't have to carry that burden with her. As they head to their flight back home Tara joyfully screams that she's heading back home. The catharsis of confiding in someone close to you and helping to unload the emotional stress of what happened is a fantastic ending to not only Tara's character, but the film as a whole.
But there's also another side to some of this story, a male perspective if you will and that's why I'm so impressed with how Walker created this whole film. It's subtle, yet present enough to sit with you, all encased in the same, crisp 90 minute film. Badger never truly consented to what happened to him on stage and so he's feeling a slight bit of what Tara is feeling. Understanding this, after that stage moment happens there's a shift in Badger's behavior. He becomes much more reserved, empathetic, and willing to go the extra mile to make sure that Tara is comfortable. As Tara falls asleep in a chair, Badger picks her up much like Paddy except instead of bringing her into the cold ocean water as a ploy to get her clothes off, Badger tucks her into bed. It's simple, small moments like this that showcase the depth of How To Have Sex and how its themes apply to everyone.
I find it pretty wild that this was my first film I saw this Sundance and I'm raving about it like this... What else am I in store for?? That I'm not sure of, but I do know that Molly Manning Walker's How To Have Sex is rightfully nominated for three BAFTA awards, because it is stellar.
Wasatch Brewing is our first stop in this Sundance journey! Situated in a brew pub on the historic Main Street of Park City, this brewery certainly knows how to elevate flavors. Get it? Because the elevation. Ok anywho, not knowing what to expect I went with bold and snagged a Devastator Double Bock and low and behold it's an exquisite match for this film.
Not only is this beer a pedantic match where moments of How To Have Sex are truly devastating, but there's more to this beverage. Under the sweet and malty taste, like trappings of DJ's blasting EDM at pool parties, there's more than meets the eye. The Devastator is a delicious balance of sweet, malt, smooth yet creamy and also packs one hell of a punch at 8% ABV. Toss that in with the elevation and you've got yourself a really drinkable beer that has a lot more to say than just some nice flavors. Something I especially appreciate from Molly Manning Walker's feature length debut, making the Devastator a wonderful companion to the film.